VOL. 111 | NO. 5 | Wednesday, January 8, 1997
1-7-97 notes world schools.gs
Conference participants see a world of world class schools
By GABRIELLE C.L. SONGE
The Daily News
Educational reform is being discussed in business circles, halls of government and among educators themselves. Not just in Memphis, the state or the nation but globally.
And the spotlight is shining brightly in Memphis at the Peabody Hotel where 500 researchers, policy analysts and educators are attending an international conference on school reform that concludes today. The conference theme is "A World of World Class Schools."
Memphis was chosen as the first U.S. site to host the 10th International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement in part because of its commitment to implement school reform.
About a third of the citys 161 schools are actively participating in one of several school reform programs.
One conference participant credits Memphis City Schools Superintendent Dr. Gerry House and Dr. Jane Walters, the states Commissioner of Education, for their foresight in stepping up educational reform in this community.
"Its a tremendous tribute to Memphis, to Dr. House, to Dr. Walters because Memphis has really been on the cutting edge of looking at these reform movements, letting teachers choose which one they want to implement in their own schools," said Rachel Shankman, director for Facing History and Ourselves in Memphis.
"To have 500 educators from all over the world who are commonly seeking new methods to teach all children, I think is so significant.
"All of the models seem to have at the core of them the need for flexibility, the need for things not to be canned programs, the need to support teachers, the need to bring parents into the classroom, the need to break isolation all of the things that we really know are important for every child to meet their potential."
One of the best financed reforms is the New American Schools project. In 1996, NAS raised $16.7 million in revenue for a total operational budget of $14.6 million.
Of the 25 states participating in the NAS project nationwide, 10 "scale-up" communities have agreed to reform 30 percent of their schools by the year 2000.
The 10 NAS school districts participating in this reform are located in California, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh and Philadelphia), Tennessee (Memphis), Texas and Washington State Alliance.
Currently, 37 city schools are using one of the seven NAS models for educational reform. Other reform models in MCS include the Accelerated method, Paidei schools and Memphis KEYS program.
Conference participants were given an opportunity to visit many of these schools and observe both the students and teachers.
Additionally, during the four-day conference school reform models from 20 countries, including the United States, have been presented in various forums. There have been luncheon presentations, round table discussions and break-out sessions.
During each break-out session, scores of research papers have been presented. One convener observed that it was impossible to acquire copies of all the papers because of the number of the concurrent sessions running.
At one session, for example, there was standing-room only for participants, and the crowd was overflowing. An international team of researchers were describing a model they developed for the United Kingdom in which the evaluation process starts within the schools rather than being conducted by officials from outside the institution.
This session was titled "Schools Speaking to Stakeholders" and was led by John MacBeath from the University of Strathclyde (Scotland) and William J. Smith with McGill University (Canada).
Working closely with one of the three teachers unions in England, MacBeath said they were commissioned to do a study that would help schools evaluate themselves.
"We worked with the National Union of Teachers to select 10 (schools) that would give us the coverage of small, large, church, non-church, inner-city, rural and so on. We had 10 which we thought was kind of representative sample," he said.
As a result of the study, they are now lobbying both parties to adopt the model nationwide.
"Its a kind of bottom-up approach where individual schools and individual collections of schools are working together and were hoping that the government eventually will say well, this is the way forward," MacBeath said.
There are approximately 40,000 K-12 schools in the United Kingdom.
During the study, MacBeath and Williams sought the advice of stakeholders. They were looking for indicators of effective schools. By the time they finished consulting administrators, teachers, parents, pupils and others, they had accumulated 1,743 indicators for effective schools.
MacBeath said sometimes it was quite interesting how 5-year-olds had such "penetrating insights." One of the top indicators for youngsters was the concept of "equity," which was hardly mentioned by teachers according to MacBeath. Students also felt it was important for teachers to tell them how they are doing.
Teachers who have another set of priorities identified support from each other as an important indicator of an effective school. They also wanted well-defined systems and procedures and for problems to be dealt with swiftly and effectively.
Smith said that while other reform models are well financed, their program was meagerly funded and extended over 18 months. "(It was) a very modest beginning," he said. "Numbers cant tell it all."
He said, "So many of the decisions in schooling are made by instinct, by image and by mythology and not made by data. The whole premise underlying this work is that schools are going to use real data about themselves as a foundation for change. Where were still at in terms of our work is trying to figure out practically ways to make this work."
The purpose set forth by the international congress was to answer this question: What is world class schooling?
As MacBeath said in opening his presentation, "Education counts. We must learn to measure what we value."